Coronavirus, One More Crisis For Italy’s Forgotten Youth

A recent speech by former ECB chief Mario Draghi hit close to home in his native country.

A couple with the Vesuvius in the background
A couple with the Vesuvius in the background


ROME — Mario Draghi's scathing words rippled through Italian and international media. The Italian-born former head of the European Central Bank delivered the first major speech since he left the institution, and chose to urge governments to think first and foremost of their youth.

"The debt created during the pandemic is unprecedented, and will have to be repaid by today's youth," he said in a speech last month. "For years, a kind of collective selfishness has made governments use skills and resources to achieve goals with immediate political returns: this is no longer acceptable. Stripping young people of their future is one of the gravest forms of inequality."

Draghi was speaking in the Italian coastal city of Rimini, and his words sounded particularly damning for the country where he was speaking.

Italy is at the bottom of European Union's youth employment statistics, ranking below Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. It is the EU member state with the highest proportion of young people labeled as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training): those who no longer study, but gave up looking for a job, rendered hopeless by a job market that doesn't exist.

Education used to be a tool for social redemption.

To be clear: this is not a new trend. Italy led the EU in these statistics even before the pandemic. Italy is no country for young people, and it hasn't been for a long time — social mobility has stalled, and poorer families no longer believe that if their children study they'll have a better life. Recently, the trend has even extended to the country's middle class.

Regardless of a person's education, the job opportunities available are usually unstable and underpaid short-term contracts. Permanent positions remain a mirage for many — even for graduates.

No wonder that many lose hope in education: almost 12% of young men and more than 15% of young women drop out of school early, and Italy has 14% fewer graduates than the EU average.

But while this has gone on for a long time, the coronavirus risks being the final nail in the coffin and crushing the little hope left in the country's young generations, who will have to shoulder Italy's gargantuan and ever-growing public debt without being responsible for its creation.

According to the latest data by ISTAT, Italy's institute for national statistics, youth unemployment is rising again: in July, it increased by nearly 2%, bringing the proportion of unemployed young people to 27.6%. If you think about what's going to happen when the government's emergency measures end, the numbers look scary. The pandemic has deepened existing inequalities, and underprivileged people, women and youth will again bear the brunt of the crisis.

Youth unemployment is rising again — Photo: Marco Iacobucci/IPA/ZUMA

"Italy has one of the world's lowest proportions of young people, yet it continues not to believe in human capital," says Alessandro Rosina, a professor of demography and social statistics at the Catholic University of Milan. "The pandemic's impact will be tough because Italy invests much less than other European countries in training and labor policies. Often, what makes the difference in a person's career is which family he or she is born in."

Rosina says that school dropouts come mostly from underprivileged neighborhoods. "Generational problems intertwine with social divides," he says. "Families invest in their children's education if they are wealthy and can afford to do so. Those born in needy families are left out of higher education: Given the low levels of government support and the low returns offered by the labor market, their families might not think it worth the investment."

In the past, education used to be a tool for social redemption — but those years are long gone. "Italy has the highest unemployment rate for graduates, who often find jobs because of family connections. Universities and job centers don't offer much help," Rosina says.

Italy has been a difficult place for young people for a long time, but the situation worsened considerably with the 2008 financial crisis. Rosina blames the lack of investment in research and development: "Companies often think of young people as cheap labor, not resources. But in a changing, digital world, one that must step up to environmental challenges, young people's skills have real value."

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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